'IAF Ranks Among World's Top Forces in Terms of Flight Safety'

Two days after helicopter crash in Romania, Israel Air Force commander Ido Nehushtan says IAF has broadened its training and its pilots fly increasingly complex routes during exercises.

Israel Air Force commander Major General Ido Nehushtan on Wednesday said the IAF is one of the top air forces in the world in terms of flight safety, despite the helicopter crash this week that killed six Israelis and one Romanian during a joint military exercise.

Israel Air Force Commander Ido Nehushtan
Ofer Vaknin

Nehushtan made his remarks at Sde Dov Airport and said he had spoken to the commander of the elite 669 search and rescue unit on site in Romania.

Nehushtan said current IAF statistics show that 1.5 accidents occur for every 100,000 hours of flight. He added that the air force has also broadened the scope of its training in recent years and that its pilots fly increasingly complex routes during their exercises.

In recent years the IAF has significantly expanded the scope of joint exercises with the air forces of its NATO allies. The drills allow Israel's air crews to practice longer-range missions than those allowed by the country's small airspace, and to practice navigating unfamiliar, mountainous terrain.

"This in no way comes at the expense of flight safety," said Nehushtan. "This is always on the table for the air force commander. I send helicopters to rescue Ukranian sailors from a sinking ship in the middle of a stormy winter night because I know they are trained for difficult missions."

The IAF commander said the force's helicopters takes part in missions "in faraway places and at night and in places where you don't know what weather conditions you will encounter. The only thing the pilots have is confidence in their performance, based on experience and skill, which they must maintain constantly. A pilot is like a surgeon – if he hasn't trained in two years, his past experience is irrelevant."

Nehushtan said that the rescue teams working in the Carpathian Mountains, where the accident occurred Monday, face harsh terrain and weather conditions, but that the effort continues to retrieve the bodies and gather evidence.

According to Nehushtan, officials will know Wednesday night how long rescue crews will stay in the area.

He added that the two crews killed in Monday's crash were participating in their first training flights as part of the Romanian mission, after other crews finished week-long similar exercises.

Nehushtan, however, refused to comment on what led to the accident, saying it was too soon to determine the cause.